Louise Ross (aka @grannylouisa on Twitter) is the manager of Leicester's Stop Smoking Service, which we believe is the first UK SSS to support the use of ecigarettes by its Service Users. She is also a passionate advocate of ecigs for harm-reduction and has worked with many vaping activists to spread the good word. Here, she shares her personal thoughts about working with vapers to influence decision-makers in public health and politics.
Making a difference, together
Before I took this job, managing the Stop service for Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland, I ran a care home for people with learning disabilities, and I felt I was in a position to really make a difference to these twenty-one people’s lives.
For the last ten years, working in tobacco control was equally a role where I felt our team could have influence: preventing the uptake of smoking by young people, helping pregnant women to go smokefree for the sake of their babies, and supporting families, who had been spending hundreds of pounds on cigarettes every month, to free up that cash to re-invest into the household budget.
Our service sees thousands of people every year, and we get many lovely thank you letters from people who say they wished they’d done it sooner. It feels like a job well done, to influence people’s lives in a positive way.
But that was just our patch and, for example, we’ve got smoking in pregnancy levels down almost to the national average in Leicester, but the smoking rates among pregnant women in Blackpool are twice as high.
The opportunity, with ecig advocacy, to have influence for good on a much wider scale has been dizzying. As a small voice among the noise being made about how switching to ecigs will save lives on a monumental scale, I’m proud to have joined this army of ecig campaigners, doing my bit to influence decision-makers, tobacco control teams, health workers, smokers.
I’ve felt privileged to work with so many amazing people in the Twittersphere and in person, to hear their stories, to work with tobacco control colleagues who totally get the pro agenda and also want to make noise about it. I’ve been amazed at the about-turn that can be created with just a bit of information, among people who were previously anti, but I’ve also been shocked that policy and decisions, laws even, are being passed based on poor understanding of the research, perpetuated falsehoods, and supposition based on prejudice. Even more disappointing has been the lack of interest, in some quarters, to ask vapers for their views. In healthcare circles, it’s a given that patients, service users, the public, should without fail be consulted on the way decisions affect them. I cannot fathom why the ecig agenda should be different, and credit goes to Public Health England, ASH and UKNSCC for their enthusiasm for having vaping advocates at their events on equal terms.
This feels like influence on a scale I could never have imagined, and I will continue to add my voice to the growing clamour for vapers to exercise their right to use a consumer product of their choice, unhindered by medical regulation or laws that prohibit their freedoms.
Vaping – it’s not part of the problem, it’s part of the solution.
Louise Ross @grannylouisa